Building trust with your faculty members should be one of your top priorities as an administrator, writes Rob Jenkins in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
From his perspective as a former department chair and academic dean, as well as current associate professor of English at Georgia State University, Jenkins offers advice for administrators who want to establish a constructive relationship with faculty. As a rule, he writes, it's a two-way street: getting faculty to gain confidence in your leadership requires showing that you have confidence in others.
Here's how to do it, according to Jenkins:
Tell it like it is
There are many times when administrators, even those who are normally honest, might tell a white lie, Jenkins writes. For instance, they might lie about the reason they were late to a meeting or say they didn't receive an email when they really just ignored it. But just like in any other situation, you should try to avoid these trivial lies because they could eventually add up to more serious ones, he writes.
Even in cases where you can't tell the truth because you don't know it, you should be comfortable with conceding that to faculty. It's a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit when you don't know something, he writes.
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Know when to say nothing
With the exception of information that might harm someone or that violates your university's policies or the law, you should respect that a faculty member confided in you, and you should not share their secrets with others, Jenkins writes. For example, if a faculty member shares that they're facing health issues, it's not your place to tell anyone—not even the faculty member's colleagues or friends.
However, if a faculty member tells you about something you know to be against what the university stands for, such as a relationship with a student, it needs to be reported, Jenkins writes.
Keep your word—always
With the passage of time, faculty have become so accustomed to people not keeping their promises that they've come to expect it, Jenkins writes. It may not count as lying in itself, but it can diminish the trust people have in you.
If necessary, Jenkins recommends telling people in advance when you can no longer fulfill a pledge you've made. But otherwise, he urges you to follow through on your words. For example, if you declare that you're going to start a new initiative to solve a problem on campus, actually do it, he writes.
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Stand up for faculty
Finally, Jenkins argues that the best thing you can do to earn faculty trust is to defend them and stand by their side. For example, this means speaking up for them when they are being criticized by others, including students, families, or other administrators, Jenkins writes. Faculty will appreciate this because they want to advance in their careers, just like everyone else.
Of course, Jenkins notes that this excludes situations when faculty are clearly wrong. However, your default stance should always be with faculty, he writes (Jenkins, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/18).
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